Category Archives: Doctrines, Teachings, Policies and Traditions

“Mormons Made Simple”

I recently came across a website of videos explaining LDS beliefs and culture, simplified for the unitiated:

Mormons Made Simple

All-in-all, they’re not too bad.  I think the narration is good, the animation is as good as it needs to be, and the claims are relatively solid.

Obviously, there are a bazillion nit-picky things that could be corrected just for the sake of being precisely correct (i.e. a video claims the Word of Wisdom was a commandment in 1833), but as a basic primer on the Church, you could do worse.

Check it out.

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The Church and a Global Flood

Recently, the LDS Newsroom published a helpful guide to determining whether or not a teaching or idea is “doctrinal” in the LDS Church.

Here is the pertinent criteria:

With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

With that in mind, let’s see whether or not the teaching of a Global Flood for Noah’s ark is “consistently proclaimed in official Church publications”.  For comparison sake, I will also list every reference to a Local Flood possibility in official Church publications.

Emphasis is added for all of these.

Is not today much like Noah’s day when the population of the earth was wiped out in the flood and but eight righteous souls were spared?   Some doubt that there was a flood, but by modern revelation we know that it did take place.

Elder Mark Petersen, “Follow the Prophets”.  October 1981 General Conference


The Lord further indicated that all flesh was corrupt in those days, and so he brought forth the flood and destroyed all flesh except Noah and his family. Therefore, we are all descendants of righteous Noah. But the family concept is under very serious attack today all over the world.

Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., “Turning the Hearts”. April 1981 General Conference.


There was the great Flood, when waters covered the earth and when, as Peter says, only “eight souls were saved” (1 Pet. 3:20).

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “If Ye Are Prepared, Ye Shall Not Fear”. October 2005 General Conference.

Another one was Noah, who was chosen to be the second father of the human race here on earth, after the flood.

Elder William Bennett, “Covenants and Blessings”. October 1975 General Conference.


Two generations later the Lord was so pained by that generation “without affection” (Moses 7:33) that he opened the windows of heaven and cleansed the entire earth with water.

Jeffry R. Holland, “A Promised Land”. Ensign, June 1976.

Here is what college-age LDS students are taught in the Church published curriculum of the Church Educational System (including Institute and BYU classes):

(4-15) Genesis 7:19. How Could the Flood Cover the Entire Earth, Including Mountains? What Was the Significance of This Immersion?

“I would like to know by what known law the immersion of the globe could be accomplished. It is explained here in a few words: ‘The windows of heaven were opened’ that is, the waters that exist throughout the space surrounding the earth from whence come these clouds from which the rain descends. That was one cause. Another cause was  ‘the fountains of the great deep were broken up’—that is something beyond the oceans, something outside of the seas, some reservoirs of which we  have no knowledge, were made to contribute to this event, and the waters were let loose by the hand and by the power of God; for God said He would bring  a flood upon the earth and He brought it, but He  had to let loose the fountains of the great deep, and pour out the waters from there, and when the flood commenced to subside, we are told ‘that the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained, and the waters returned from off the earth.’ Where did they go to? From whence they came. Now, I will show you something else on the back of that. Some people talk very philosophically about tidal waves coming along. But the question is—How could you get a tidal wave out of the Pacific ocean, say, to cover the Sierra Nevadas? But the Bible does not tell us it was a tidal wave. It simply tells that ‘all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.’ That is, the earth was immersed. It was a period of baptism.” (John Taylor in Journal of Discourses, 26:74–75.)

Orson Pratt declared:
“The first ordinance instituted for the cleansing of the earth, was that of immersion in water; it was buried in the liquid element, and all things sinful upon the face of the earth were washed away. As it came forth  from the ocean floor, like the new-born child, it was innocent; it rose to newness of life. It was its second  birth from the womb of mighty waters—a new world issuing from the ruins of the old, clothed with all the  innocence of this first creation.” (In Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:20.)

“The earth, in its present condition and situation, is not a fit habitation for the sanctified; but it abides
the law of its creation, has been baptized with water will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, and
by-and-by will be prepared for the faithful to dwell upon” (Brigham Young, in Smith, Answers to Gospel
Questions, 4:20).

Here is what is taught to adult members of the Church in their Church Sunday School classes:

b. Genesis 7:11–24; 8; 9:8–17. It rains for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:11–12). All people and creatures that are not on the ark die, and the waters cover the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:13–24). When the waters recede, Noah, his family, and the animals leave the ark (Genesis 8:1–19), and Noah offers sacrifice to the Lord (Genesis 8:20–22). The Lord establishes his covenant with Noah and sets the rainbow as a token of the covenant (Genesis 9:8–17; note that the Joseph Smith Translation of verse 15 states that the covenant was between God and Noah, not between God and every living creature).

More quotes, little ambiguity.

There is a third group of people—those who accept the literal message of the Bible regarding Noah, the ark, and the Deluge. Latter-day Saints belong to this group. In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets.

Donald Parry, “The Flood and the Tower of Babel”.  Ensign, January 1998

Following the Flood, Noah and his three sons and their wives received a calling much like that given to Adam and Eve. They were commanded to “multiply and replenish the earth,” which would fulfill a prophecy made by Methuselah “that from [Noah’s] loins should spring all the kingdoms of the earth” (Moses 8:3). As the Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “Noah was born to save seed of everything, when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood.” 11 Noah fulfilled his specific calling just as Adam and Eve did in opening earth life and as the Savior did in redeeming earth life.

The Flood covered the whole earth (see Gen. 7:19–23).

Joseph B. Romney, “Noah, The Great Preacher of Righteousness”.  Ensign, February 1998


The worldwide flood of Noah’s time has been accepted as a benchmark historical event by Jews and Christians for thousands of years—and similar traditions appear among the Greeks, Mesopotamians, and some American Indian tribes. Yet the story is regarded skeptically today in our secular world. Most current geology texts ignore the Flood, ridicule it, or use it as an example of prescientific superstition.

Consequently, Latter-day Saints and other Christians sometimes find the apparent conflict between their faith in the scriptures and their education puzzling. The account of Noah’s flood is a typical illustration of the differences which occur between scriptural information and modern secular teachings about the history of the world.

F. Kent Nielsen, “The Gospel and the Scientific View: How the Earth Came to Be”. Ensign, September 1980

In prayer Noah asked the Lord never to destroy the earth again with flood. Noah’s prayer was answered; the Lord promised Noah that He would never again destroy the entire earth by flood. From that time forth the rainbow would be a symbol of that promise.

“Noah and the Ark”. Liahona, September 1984

These people were so wicked that they were no longer allowed to pollute the earth by their presence on it or to bring innocent spirits into its decadent environment. The Lord decreed that all living things would be destroyed by flood, with the exception of a faithful few who would be spared so that God could begin anew his creative work and reestablish his covenant among men.

Kent P. Jackson, “An Age of Contrasts: From Adam to Abraham”. Ensign, February 1986.

According to the Old Testament, Noah found favor with the Lord and was commanded to build an ark to preserve human and animal life during the Flood (see Gen. 5–9).

Rex C. Reeve Jr., “A Latter-day Testament of Biblical Truth”. Ensign, January 2001.

The history of the peopling of the earth is really a history of the scattering of the descendants of Noah, who is sometimes referred to as the “second father of mankind.” This general scattering began soon after the Flood when the sons of Noah and their children began to spread forth “in their lands, … after their nations” (see Gen. 10:5, 20, 31) and was greatly accelerated at the time of the Tower of Babel, when the Lord confounded the people’s language and did “scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” (Gen. 11:9.)

Lane Johnson, “Who and Where are the Lamanites?”. Ensign, December 1975.

Is not today much like Noah’s day, when the population of the earth was wiped out in the Flood and but eight souls were saved? (see Genesis 7; 1 Peter 3:20).

Elder David E. Sorensen, “Preisthood, Agency and Black Power”. Ensign, September 2007.

*This is a bonus one.  Proponents of a “Limited Flood” have to explain what, exactly, God was covenanting with Noah.  No more local floods?  And what about all the other people living all over the world?

The Lord made a covenant with Noah, and the rainbow became the token of that eternal covenant with all mankind. (See Gen. 9:13.)

Elder Howard W. Hunter, “Commitment to God”. October 1981 Conference.

Just to be fair, I will also include every reference in a Church publication to a Local Flood, or the possibility that the flood wasn’t global:

[crickets chirping]

There aren’t any that I could find.  Let me know if you have better luck.

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Quotes worth discussing (and remembering)…

A few years ago, Joseph Fielding McConkie  had these thoughts on the Church’s moves towards “ecumenism”, or trying to get along with other religions:

The Ecumenical Movement

As a young man I was commissioned as an officer in the Army of the United States and assigned to serve as a chaplain. My first duty was to report to an officer’s training school at Fort Hamilton in New York. There the Chief of Chaplains, a three star general by the name of Charley Brown, told us that our commission was to be the grassroots of the ecumenical movement. There were one hundred of us in that class, representing every major faith in our country. We were instructed to work together. We were informed that it was a violation of military law for us to proselyte for our own faith. Were I to attempt to teach Mormonism to someone who was not already a Latter-day Saint would have been grounds for a court marshal. Such is the cost of an ecumenical movement.

I appreciate the observation of Elder Maxwell, who said, There is today more ecumenicism, but there is also more shared doubt. More and more people believe less and less but they do believe it together. The fewer the issues, the easier it is to get agreements. The fewer standards there are, the less there is for congregations to rebel against. Since knowing is tied to doing, and doing to knowing, there is an awful cycle in all of this.

By revelation, we as a people have been charged to stand independent of the world (see D&C 78:14). In a directive to priesthood leaders President Packer stated, It is important to maintain a cordial and cooperative relationship with the leaders and members of other denominations. Representatives of the Church should not join interfaith organizations that have as their focus ecumenical activities or joint worship services. Interfaith relationships should center on moral values and on community betterment. [7]

http://www.meridianmagazine.com/jsbicentennial/051115vision.html

In short, the danger of trying to be liked by other religions is that they might think we are trying to be like them.  Which should never be the case.   I wonder which is more dangerous: being the weird, unliked, persecuted “cult”, or the big, popular, respected religion?  Which fosters a faster deterioration of unique (and important) doctrines?

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What’s Wrong With “Mormon Doctrine”?

In 1958, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (then a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Seventy, the third highest Quorum in the Church) published a book entitled “Mormon Doctrine”.  It set out, in alphabetical order, his views on hundreds of different subjects relating to the Church, ranging from “The Atonement” to “Playing Cards”.

Though not an “official” Church publication, Elder McConkie was a noted and respected scriptorian, and his forceful and certain tone throughout the book gives it an air of authority.  Soon after it was published, the first edition of the book fell under criticism for some of it’s more unusual and ascerbic claims (the most notable one being that the Catholic Church is “The Church of the Devil” as described in The Book of Mormon).  Higher church authorities discussed the matter, and to make a long story short, the book was issued in a revised second edition in 1966.  After the revelation giving blacks the priesthood in 1978,  it was further revised, and that is the edition available today.

Before his death, Elder McConkie became a member of the LDS Quorum of the 12 apostles, making him a high-ranking authority and one of the 15 men LDS revere as “apostles”.  Since his death, Elder McConkie’s writings, including “Mormon Doctrine”, have enjoyed continued popularity, and he is one of the most quoted Church leaders in the Church’s own scripture lesson manuals and curriculum.

While many of the statements made by Elder McConkie have become outdated and fallen out of fashion in Mormon culture, “Mormon Doctrine”  continues to be published and sold to this day (even in Deseret Book, the LDS Church-owned bookstore). [Edit: As of March 2010, it appears the book is no longer in print or available at Deseret Book – CP] LDS Scholars who support the Theory of Evolution and other more “nuanced” understandings of the scriptures are those most likely to find themselves teaching things contradictory to Elder McConkie.

Whenever the topic of “Mormon Doctrine” comes up, people tend to downplay the book, as if it were harmless or “mostly correct”.  I agree it is “mostly correct”, but I think perhaps it is time to let the book go out of print and fade away (as has almost ever other book published by an LDS General Authority during the 1960’s.  When was the last time you saw “An Abundant Life” by Hugh B. Brown on sale at Deseret Book?)  And why?

Here are some of the many statements made in “Mormon Doctrine” that, at the very least, do not reflect the opinions of many modern Church members and leaders.  I won’t note why each one has fallen out of favor in some circles, but I will say that if these statements are true in general, apologetic scholarship on the Book of Mormon and creation of the Earth has run off doctrinal the rails, and scholars and apologists are living in a  state of delusion:


American Indians “When Columbus discovered America, the native inhabitants, the American Indians as they were soon to be designated, were a people of mixed blood and origin. Chiefly they were Lamanites, but such remnants of the Nephite nation as had not been destroyed had, of course, mingled with the Lamanites. (1 Ne. 13:30; 2 Ne. 3:1-3; 9:53; Alma 45:13-14; D. & C. 3:16-19.) Thus the Indians were Jews by nationality (D. & C. 57:4), their forefathers having come out from Jerusalem, from the kingdom of Judah. (2 Ne. 33:8-10.)”

…….

Since the days of the Spanish conquests and colonizations of Mexico and South America, there has been further dilution of the pure Lamanitish blood. But with it all, for the great majority of the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere, the dominant blood lineage is that of Israel. The Indians are repeatedly called Lamanites in the revelations to the Prophet, and the promise is that in due course they “shall blossom as the rose” (D. & C. 49:24), that is, become again a white and delightsome people as were their ancestors a great many generations ago.



Animals They were all created as spirit entities in pre-existence. (Moses 3:1-9.) When first placed on earth in the Garden of Eden, they were immortal. The revealed record, speaking of the edenic day, specifies: “All things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” (2 Ne. 2:22.) Such would have been the continuing condition had there been no fall of Adam, but Adam and all forms of life were subject to the fall and have been living on earth in their mortal states ever since.

Article on Marriage

When the Prophet returned (in 1835) and learned of the action taken relative to the publication of the article on marriage, he was greatly troubled. However, knowing that up to that date the new and everlasting covenant of marriage had only been revealed in principle, that there was as yet no command to practice it, and that the power and keys had not been restored whereby marriages could be solemnized so they would endure for eternity, he let the action stand. The higher order was to come later.

Evolution

Adam’s fall brought temporal (natural) and spiritual death into the world. The temporal or natural death means that body and spirit separate, the spirit going to a world of waiting spirits to await the day of the resurrection, the body returning to the dust, the primal element, from which it was taken. The effects of this fall passed upon all created things.

Thus when man fell the earth fell together with all forms of life on its face. Death entered; procreation began; the probationary experiences of mortality had their start. Before this fall there was neither mortality, nor birth, nor death, nor — for that matter — did Adam so much as have blood in his veins (and the same would be true for other forms of life), for blood is an element pertaining only to mortality.

…..

However, for our present purposes, it is sufficient to know that the time element since mortal life began on earth is specifically and pointedly made known. We are now nearing the end of the 6th thousand years of this earth’s “continuance, or its temporal existence,” and the millennial era will commence “in the beginning of the seventh thousand years.” (D. & C. 77.) That is, we are approaching the end of the 6th of the periods of one thousand years each, all of which periods have occurred since the fall, since the earth became temporal, since it gained its telestial status, since it became the natural earth that we know, since death and mortality entered the scene. Thus the period during which birth, and life, and death have been occurring on this earth is less than 6,000 years.

……

How weak and puerile the intellectuality which, knowing that the Lord’s plan takes all forms of life from a pre-existent spirit state, through mortality, and on to an ultimate resurrected state of immortality, yet finds comfort in the theoretical postulates that mortal life began in the scum of the sea, as it were, and has through eons of time evolved to its present varieties and state! Do those with spiritual insight really think that the infinite Creator of worlds without number would operate in this way?

…..

Merely to list the basic doctrines of the gospel is to point out the revealed truths which are inharmonious with the theories of organic evolution and which were to taken into account by those who postulated those theories. In addition to the considerations so far mentioned attention might be given to revelation, visions, and angelic ministrations; to miracles, signs, and gifts of the Spirit; to the enjoyment of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the faithful; to the truths comprising the plan of salvation; to the decreed judgment according to works, and the ultimate assignment of all resurrected men to kingdoms or degrees of glory hereafter.

There is no harmony between the truths of revealed religion and the theories of organic evolution.

First Man

There were no pre-Adamites; the great archangel Michael, who descended from the courts of glory to be the father of the human race, was appointed to be the father of all living. Indeed, Adam and Eve were not able to have children and provide bodies for the spirit children of the Father until after the fall.

Plural Marriage

Obviously the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium.

Flood of Noah

In the days of Noah the Lord sent a universal flood which completely immersed the whole earth and destroyed all flesh except that preserved on the ark. (Gen. 6; 7; 8; 9; Moses 7:38-45; 8; Ether 13:2.) “Noah was born to save seed of everything, when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood.” (Teachings, p. 12.) This flood was the baptism of the earth; before it occurred the land was all in one place, a condition that will again prevail during the millennial era. (D. & C. 133:23-24.)

There is no question but what many of the so-called geological changes in the earth’s surface, which according to geological theories took place over ages of time, in reality occurred in a matter of a few short weeks incident to the universal deluge. (Man: His Origin and Destiny, pp. 414-436.)

Birth Control

(Quoting President Joseph F. Smith:) : “I regret, I think it is a crying evil, that there should exist a sentiment or a feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. I think that is a crime wherever it occurs, where husband and wife are in possession of health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity. I believe that where people undertake to curtail or prevent the birth of their children that they are going to reap disappointment by and by. I have no hesitancy in saying that I believe this is one of the greatest crimes of the world today, this evil practice.” (Rel. Soc. Mag., vol. 4, p. 318.)

Cain

As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed and told that “the earth” would not thereafter yield him its abundance as previously. In addition he became the first mortal to be cursed as a son of perdition. As a result of his mortal birth he is assured of a tangible body of flesh and bones in eternity, a fact which will enable him to rule over Satan. The Lord placed on Cain a mark of a dark skin, and he became the ancestor of the black race.

Caste System


However, in a broad general sense, caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord. To illustrate: Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry. (Gen. 4; Moses 5.)

Cumorah

See BOOK OF MORMON, GOLD PLATES.

Both the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations fought their final great wars of extinction at and near the Hill Cumorah (or Ramah as the Jaredites termed it), which hill is located between Palmyra and Manchester in the western part of the state of New York. It was here that Moroni hid up the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. (Morm. 6; Ether 15.) Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and many of the early brethren, who were familiar with all the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, pp. 232-241.)

Quetzalcoatl

See APOSTASY, BOOK OF MORMON, CHRIST, NEPHITES AND LAMANITES.

Lamanitish tradition has preserved the account of the ministry among the ancient inhabitants of America of a white God called Quetzalcoatl. One of the most accurate and authentic sources of the secular history of America, for the period before Columbus, was written by Ixtlilxochitl near the close of the 16th century. His material, gained from ancient hieroglyphic writings handed down from his ancestors, contains such statements as these:

“Quetzalcoatl was a favorably disposed man, of grave aspect, white and bearded. His dress was a long tunic.” He was “just, saintly and good.” He taught “by deeds and words the path of virtue forbidding them their vices and sins, giving laws and good doctrine.” “He told them that in time to come, … he would return, and then his doctrine would be received.” (Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, pp. 195-222; Hunter, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, Christ in Ancient America.)

It is well known that one of the chief reasons for the relatively easy conquest of Mexico by Cortez was the belief, almost universal among the Aztecs, that he was the great white God returning as he had promised. (William H. Prescott, The Conquest of Mexico.) Almost without exception Latter-day Saints have associated these traditions with the ministry of the resurrected Christ among the Nephites. President John Taylor, for instance, has written: “The story of the life of the Mexican divinity, Quetzalcoatl, closely resembles that of the Savior; so closely, indeed, that we can come to no other conclusion than that Quetzalcoatl and Christ are the same being. But the history of the former has been handed down to us through an impure Lamanitish source, which has sadly disfigured and perverted the original incidents and teachings of the Savior’s life and ministry.” (Mediation and Atonement, p. 194.)

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The FLDS – Our greatest missed missionary oppurtunity!

Is there any group of people on the Earth today that should be easier to baptize than the FLDS?

They already have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the BoM. They already have a testimony of Brigham Young and John Taylor. All we have to do is convince them that Wilford Woodruff really was a prophet, and they’re in. They probably haven’t ever really prayed to find out if the LDS church is true, and if they did, they must be close enough to the Holy Ghost for God to testify to them of their error.

Instead of sending missionaries to areas of the world with incredibly low rates of conversion and huge cultural and religious obstacles (Japan?), we should be blitzing Colorado City, where everyone is a dry Mormon with the same concern to resolve.

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Don’t Call it a Comeback – Polygamy or Consecration?

Recent lessons in Gospel Doctrine have discussed “The Law of Consecration”.  But sadly, these lessons have typically skipped over the two most interesting aspects of this Law:

1. The original version of the Law of Consecration (1.0) didn’t allow people to keep the deed to their property.  The Church owned it.

2. There is nothing stopping modern LDS from living the Law of Consecration.  We just don’t do it because we are, for the most part, either poor or materialistic (or both).

Contrary to some comments I’ve heard,  living the Law of Consecration doesn’t mean a reduction in “self reliance” or somehow opting out of sound 21st century personal management principles. It doesn’t have to involve liquidating your 401(k) or not saving for the future.  It simply involves giving your surplus, your true surplus, to the Church so the less fortunate can be helped.  Any LDS who wants to live this higher law needs only take stock of their needs compared to their wants, and once their needs are met, they give the rest to the Church as a fast offering.

For example, if I am shopping for a house for my family of 6, I may determine that I need a house with 4 bedrooms.  A palatial 4 bedroom goes for $700k in my area, and a modest but absolutely respectable and livable 4 bedroom goes for $400k.  For purposes of this example, suppose I have saved $700k the purchase of a house.  If I am committed to living my life under the principle of consecration, I evaluate my needs, subdue my intense yearning for a McMansion in the foothills and buy the $400k house, and give $300k to the Church.

Suppose my car has broken down, and I need to buy a new one.  Again, I am fortunate enough to have saved $40k for a new car.  I need a nice sport utility for the bumpy roads around my house, and would like a BMW X5.  But I could get by with a decent used Ford Explorer for $20k.  So I buy the Explorer and give $20k to the Church.  That’s the surplus; it was more than I needed.

On a slightly smaller scale, and one that applies to just about every LDS in a developed country, there are countless choices we make where we choose to spend just a little more than we need to on clothing, food, entertainment, gadgets, and everything else.   The principles of consecration would suggest that we should use these oppurtunities to recognize our surpluses and make contributions to the poor and needy among us.  Even if it means passing up on a pair of $140 jeans or a $6,000 TV.

The most common argument against such ideas is that people always have jobs and situations where they need a $2,000 suit for court, or a $50k car lasts so much longer than a $25k car that it makes financial sense in the end.  While some of these arguments might have some merit (there is certainly a point where buying “cheap” clothes or electronics is counterproductive), it’s usually just a weak justification for our materialistic desires.  The point of consecration being that we need to overcome them.

I’ll also take a second to point out that the scriptures seem to spend more time complaining about the cost of peoples’ clothes compared to their modesty (and if the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, it’s possible the first thing Jesus saw when he showed up was a crowd of bare-breasted women, yet he didn’t mention it).  But I digress.

Frankly, given the choice I’m not sure which 19th century doctrine/policy (“doctrincy”) modern capitalist, “self sufficient” LDS would be more reluctant to practice: polygamy or Consecration.  That would be an interesting question to ask your Gospel Doctrine class.  I wonder if the answers would be divided along gender lines…?

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Evolution: The wrong tool for the job

As the evidence for evolution mounts, more and more LDS are looking for the middle ground and adopting some hybrid theory of creation, usually adopting some form of “Theistic Evolution” in search of a middle ground that doesn’t make their heads explode.

I’ve heard many interesting and creative theories that blend the two (evolution and “God”), but most avoid one really uncomfortable aspect of evolution: If you know what you want to make, Evolution is an inefficient and inexact way to get there.  Basically,  it is the wrong tool for the job.

The whole idea behind evolution is that you don’t know how it’s going to end up. It’s gradual change over time, with improvements being made bit by bit (or with punctuated big bits).

But supposedly God knew all along exactly what the end product was supposed to look like (namely: like Him). He knew the form and function of all the organs, and the total anatomy from head to toe.  This idea is most explicitly outlined in the LDS doctrine of “Spiritual Creation“, in which things are actually created in spirit form before their physical creation.  But how can that be possible with evolution?

This theory would suggest that God using evolution was a process with a goal; it had to come out just right so it would look just like Him. It couldn’t result in humans with three arms, or one eye. That’s not what evolution is.

So what is the purpose of spending millions of years just kind of nudging the process along, with false starts and dead ends? It would be like trying to make chocolate chip cookies, but instead of just using the Nestle Toll House recipe from the back of the package, you make thousands and thousands of different batches, trying to figure out how to make Nestle Toll House cookies. Then, finally, after years and years of experimentation, you arrive at the exact cookie that you could have made the first time by looking at the package.  Even if you used that method, you wouldn’t say that you “evolved” the cookie.  You would say you developed the cookie using trial and error.   Do we really want to suggest that God created our physical world using “trial and error”?

The other problem is the ongoing nature of evolution.  The story of the creation gives the idea of a creative “period”, and then the state where things are “created”.  2 Nephi 2:22 certainly frames the creation in such a way.  But evolution doesn’t have an end.  How could it?  How could God be evolving thousands of different species, each moving slowly towards their intended finished design, and then find that one moment in time where a species is “created”, and then have it keep evolving?  And what happens when some speices are fully evolved/created after 20 million years, but other species need 80 million years, or 100 million years?  Do some animals get their spirits first?  Are there animals even today who are not yet “created”, and are spiritless lifeforms waiting to evolve into their final “spiritual” form?

And what happens if a species evolves away from it’s spiritually created form?  Does it become “uncreated”?

Sure, God could use evolution (a time consuming and wasteful process) to “create” life to the exact specification he had alreay prepared, but why would He?  Other than the fact that some LDS need to reconcile the evidence for evolution with a belief in God-centric creation, why would anyone believe that?

(If you want to brush up on what, exactly “Evolution” is, I highly recommend taking 10 minutes of your time and watching this fantastic, wonderful and interesting video:  Evolution )

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Fallacial Logic

One doesn’t have to spend much time discussing (i.e. debating) anything online before bad logic enters the fray.  It seems to be just too easy to craft a fallacious argument, that no one can resist.   Just what is “bad logic”, you might ask?  To put it simply “bad logic” is making an argument that really doesn’t mean what you think it means (or shouldn’t be used to support  a claim, because it is weak.)  Bad arguments are used by critics, apologists, anti-Mormons, TBM’s.  No one can resist.  I seem to be most sensitive to fallacious arguments that are used to argue for the Church, because it is my belief that something like the Gospel Of Jesus Christ shoule be defended with something better.

So, with that in mind, here are the names and examples of some fallacious arguments, as seen in the wild:

Straw Man – Very common.  Whenever someone is rewording or summarizing a view they don’t agree with, there is strawman danger.

Begging the Question – “If you want to know if there is a God, pray to Him and He will reveal himself to you”, “A testimony can be found in the bearing of it”.  If the only way to believe in God is to first believe in God, then that might be a little problematic in discussions with atheists.

False Dilemma – “Either the Church is true, or it isn’t”, “Either Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, or he was the biggest liar and fraud in all of history”, “Either the Book of Mormon is a true history, or it is a book of lies.”  Any time someone phrases something complex and layered as an “either/or”, there is danger of throwing out important details and subtleties in an effort to force a decision.

Attacking the Person – Anytime an argument turns to the personal characteristics or history of  someone, there is danger of getting off track and “Attacking the Person” instead of their argument.  While a certain amount of context is nice, and certainly a person’s trustworthiness is a consideration if their argument involves us taking their word for something, generally speaking, you know someone is losing an argument when they shift the focus to the “person”.

See: FARMS Review of Books, Volumes 1 – 17,

Also

QUOTE
“When I was preaching in Philadelphia, a Quaker called out for a sign. I told him to be still. After the sermon, he again asked for a sign. I told the congregation the man was an adulterer; that a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and that the Lord had said to me in a revelation, that any man who wanted a sign was an adulterous person. “It is true,” cried one, “for I caught him in the very act,” which the man afterwards confessed, when he was baptized.” Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.268

Post Hoc – It’s easy to look at two events, and assume the later event was somehow caused or related to the earlier one.  This is commonly seen in Church with statements such as “I was sick and had a blessing. Soon after, I felt better. The priesthood healed me.” “I payed my tithing, and the next day, a check for $300 arrived in the mail. The Lord blesses those who pay tithing.”

Unless we have some way of knowing what would have happened if the preceding events hadn’t transpired (and since people get better and get unexpected checks in the mail all the time), a little more discretion may be in order.

Affirming the Consequent – “If the Book of Mormon is “true”, I will get a warm, spiritual feeling when I read it. I get a warm, spiritual feeling when I read it, so therefore the Book of Mormon is “true”.”  Alternate explanations need to be considered.

Subverted Support – The phenomenon being “explained” isn’t even true in the first place.  For example, “The reason the Church is the fastest growing in the world is because it is true”, “[insert any of a bazillion faith-promoting-rumors here], therefore the Church is true.”

Circular Definition – “A prophet is a prophet only when he is acting as a prophet”.   Obviously he isn’t acting as a prophet when he isn’t acting as a prophet.  Who would argue otherwise? (could also be Equivocation)

Popularity – anytime a claim is made regarding Church growth rates, “Every Church leader I’ve known has said not to watch rated R movies, therefore Mormons shouldn’t watch them.”

There are many others, and of course critics, anti-Mormons and others make these mistakes much more often than those who argue to defend traditional Church positions.  Further discussion (and a few responses and rubuttals) from this thread at the MA&D board:

Providing Linkage to Opposing Views

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Wow…the Church grew a whopping 0% in the US from ’90-’08!

USA Today has an interesting article on religious growth (or lack thereof) in the US over the last few decades.   We awesomely beat the mainline Protestants and Catholics, but lost out to the Wiccans, Muslims and Pentacostals :(.

And they peg US Church membership at 3.2 million members.  I wonder if the Church will revise their figure of 5.9 million to more closely reflect reality….?

The survey is pretty simple: they ask a bunch of people (113k in 1990, 54k in 2008) “What is your religious identity?”

I suspect we’ll hear a letter from the FP in the next few months that simply says: “Attention fellow Church members: If someone calls or stops you on the street and asks you what your religious identity is, please answer “LDS/Mormon”

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The Curious Case of LDS Porn Addiction

A recent study showed that when subscription data to online porn websites is analyzed, Utah shows a higher incidence of usage than any other state.  This statistic would probably not be surprising to any LDS who had been listening to General Conference (and local) talks over the last few years, where the problem of pornography addiction among LDS has been repeatedly addressed.  My stake recently had a Saturday evening session of Stake Conference where our SP spent almost an hour on the subject. Every Bishop or SP that I am friends with seems to have, at one time or another, told me “You have no idea how bad it is.”

Apparently the LDS Church (and christianity in general) is suffering from an epidemic of pornography use among its members.   And I’m guessing that, as of March 2009, the Church is losing the war on pornography.

As with all losing wars,  there comes a time when the leaders have to re-evaluate their strategy and survey the battlefield.  Sometimes, radical new tactics must be adopted.  Certainly, no competent General would assume that doing the same losing battle plan over and over would eventually result in victory, right?  And sometimes, surrender and retreat is the only logical option.

With that in mind, I suggest one option LDS Church leaders may have to eventually consider:  accept pornography.  But I say “accept pornography” not as a means to admit defeat, but instead as a tactic to kill the beast at its very heart.

After all, what if the only way the Church could “win” the war on pornography was to just let it go? What if the harder they fight against it, the more LDS men want to look at it, and the only way to reduce their interest is to tell them it’s OK to view it with wisdom and moderation?

As with anything, there will always be those people who can’t view it “with wisdom and moderation”, and then it becomes a problem. But just as the Church is able to deal with individuals with eating disorders while at the same time understanding that most people can enjoy the occasional dish of ice cream without going overboard, could the Church move towards a similar attitude for pornography? And does it have any other choice?

Because with our current, porn saturated world, I’m not sure the current no-tolerance policy is going to help. Or maybe the Church leaders just need to talk about it a little more, and things will get better.

Maintaining the Status Quo

But suppose the Church continues to take a hard-line stance and commits itself to a “no tolerance” policy.  What, exactly, would the logical result be?

Ideally, the inspired leadership of the Church on the matter would turn the hearts of the fathers (and young men, and single men) away from their computer screens.  That’s the hope.

But what happens if current trends continue, and two things happen:

– Pornography use and/or addiction continues to increase among Church members, with few actually confessing the problem to their Bishops.
– The Church maintains a zero-tolerance policy on the issue.

Assuming the problem (in areas with broadband internet access) reaches 25% of current priesthood holders, what will happen to the Church 25 years from now if porn use reaches 75% of priesthood holders?  Or 85%?  How will the Church be different than it is today?  Will there be any noticeable difference?

Will the divorce rate or rate of infidelity be greater?  Will priesthood blessings generally be less effective?  Will home teaching numbers be lower?  Will tithing receipts be lower?  Will Temple attendance fall off?

And those kinds of numbers would indicate that it probably isn’t just the rank-and-file who have a problem; there would be leaders with problems as well.  Would their pornography addiction have any noticeable affect on their leadership abilities?  Would their callings be less inspired?  Would they be less discerning in interviews?

What does a pornography epidemic mean to the Church in general?

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